Every day, people lose thousands of dollars to lottery and sweepstakes scams.
It’s your lucky day! You just won a lottery or sweepstakes!
Or so says the official-looking notice, or the official-sounding caller. To receive your winnings, you only need to send in a current address and phone number along with a small payment. Or the caller or notice might say your award will be released as soon as you pay taxes or fees.
There is just one catch: This is a scam. Every day, people lose thousands of dollars to lottery and sweepstakes scams. If you enter, the scammers win and you lose. That’s because their prize is the money and personal information you send.
If a “you’ve-won” notice or call comes, take these steps to spot and avoid a scam:
- News out of the blue about your winning entry? Except you don’t remember entering? Don’t bite. That’s a scam.
- Never send money to claim what you’ve supposedly already won, and never pay through a wire transfer service or a gift card. Ever! You’ll have no way to get your money back.
- No one from the government will ever contact you about winning — or to ask you to pay a fee to get a prize.
- If you get a check to cover taxes or fees for your “prize,” never deposit that check in your bank. It will bounce and it might give scammers your account number.
- If you’re told to keep your win a secret, that’s a scam.
- Never act immediately. Scammers want to rush you into making a mistake.
- If you hear that you’re guaranteed to win if you pay now, you’ve spotted a scam. There are no guaranteed wins.
When scammers reach out, it might look legitimate. Scammers make their calls and letters seem real, in the hope you’ll ignore the warning signs. They may use an official-sounding name for the sweepstakes or lottery. They may send you documents or letters with official-looking names and logos on them. They may claim to be from a government agency or service that helps winners claim their prize money. They may say they’re responsible for collecting taxes or fees on prizes before they’re delivered.
All of these approaches are ways to catch you off-guard. And you’re not alone. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and law enforcement partners filed cases against scammers who targeted thousands of older adults. In some cases, they sent personalized, official-looking mail notices that promised hundreds of thousands of dollars. To claim the prize, people were told to send in a form with contact information and a small payment. In another case, the personalized letters came from psychics. For some personal information and a small payment, they promised to tell people how they would come into large fortunes. Instead of large prizes however, the people who responded to these so-called offers received even more scams in the mail — some of it from the original scammers, some from others who bought lists of people who had entered. People who responded to these “You’re a winner!” announcements individually paid hundreds of dollars, or even thousands.
Avoid helping a scammer win big by being aware of these sweepstakes and lottery traps:
- Don’t pay a fee to receive a prize — that includes paying taxes, shipping and handling charges, or processing fees to get your prize.
- Wiring money is like sending cash: Once it’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. The same goes for giving scammers the numbers on a prepaid gift or debit card.
- It can sometimes take days or longer to discover a deposited check is fake. If you withdraw money to pay taxes and fees before the fake check is found out, you will have to reimburse your bank even if you cannot get your payment back.
- Not sure whether an offer is real? Check with the agency or company directly, but use a phone number or website you know is real.
- Lottery scammers often operate from other countries, beyond easy reach of U.S. law enforcement. That can make it nearly impossible to trace or reverse payments. Also, know that playing a foreign lottery and collecting winnings is illegal in the U.S.
Sweepstakes and lottery scammers may be persistent and aggressive, but you can fight back by knowing their tactics. And share what you know about these scams with family and friends — learn more at FTC.gov/PassItOn. You can help law enforcement by reporting suspected lottery and sweepstakes scams. Go to FTC.gov/complaint.
The FTC is a bipartisan federal agency that has championed the interests of American consumers for more than 100 years. The agency enforces laws that prohibit unfair or deceptive practices in the marketplace and educates consumers and businesses.